By Marisa Petrich (Northwest Guardian)March 4, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- What's the difference between being good and being great' According to some, raw talent isn't enough. You also have to want it.
Maj. Mike Mai, commander of the 9th Financial Management Company and a nationally ranked weight and hammer thrower, knows what that's like. He recently set a new personal record in the weight throw at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships and has his eye on the Olympics for the hammer throw in 2012.
"It's almost kind of that very basic human desire be the biggest, strongest and fastest and throw something really far. It's what man has been doing since we - became man, I think," he said.
Mai's longest throw of 23.72 meters (77.82 feet) at last month's nationals wasn't quite the farthest in the competition, but it came pretty close. He placed third, finishing a single centimeter behind the second-place thrower, A.G. Kruger of Nike, and 36 away from Jake Freeman of the New York Athletic Club, who came in first at 24.08 meters (79 feet).
"I was tight, it was real tight up at the top," he said.
Mai also broke his previous best throw of 23.67 meters (77.66 feet), which he set at nationals in 2010.
"You know, I was really happy with the personal best," he said. "And really, overall, my series was definitely the best I've ever had. I probably had three of the top four throws I've ever had."
Being the third-ranked weight thrower at indoor nationals is no mean feat, but for Mai it's all about the outdoor season and his specialty - the hammer throw.
Now that the indoor season is winding down, he'll be taking a short break from training to get an injection for tendonitis in his knee.
In April he'll be moving to San Jose, Calif. for his third tour in the Army's World Class Athlete Program, which enables elite Soldier-athletes to train full-time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"One thing with the weight because, again, it's shorter and heavier, you can throw it far by overpowering it," he said. "But the hammer is much more technical. You can't just overpower the hammer because it's lighter and longer."
The hammer is 16 pounds with a nearly four-foot handle, as opposed to the 35-pound weight attached to a triangular handle. Though the sports are similar, the hammer throw requires more than just brute strength.
Imagine the hammer swinging in a perfect circle, like a wheel with a single spoke, returning to a fixed point after each revolution. At the center of the circle, Mai releases the hammer after four tightly controlled turns, after which the hammer usually flies out about 75 meters, or 246 feet.
"It's almost like simple harmonic motion in physics," he said. "When you have the right technique and you really, as we say in throwing, connect to the ball, you know, you add so much more energy into that system."
It's getting that perfect technique that he'll be working on starting in April.
While assigned at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Mai's been training by sending videos of his meets to his coach, Dave Swan, in San Jose, Calif. But with the Olympics approaching, he's relocating for more intensive personal training.
Swan knows he's up for the challenge.
"Mike is one of the athletes who wants it as much as I want it for him," he said.
"He's a heck of a man," Swan said. "He's a great Soldier and he's a great athlete."
For Mai, leaving Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be bittersweet.
"It's fun being with the troops, even though you know you don't get as much training time," he said. "You know, this job has been really rewarding, and I'm definitely gonna miss being here with all the folks that I've been with."
Next up for Mai are the 2011 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June, and the World Military Games in Brazil in July.
"It's gonna be a completely different lifestyle. It's gonna take a while to get used to," Mai said. "You know, I'm definitely gonna enjoy the time to train and really devote myself to it and see what can happen."